Monday, December 28, 2009

Someday She'll Remember This Christmas and Laugh

A doctor looked at Katie's throat yesterday by snaking a tiny camera through her nose. I regret I was not there to capture that memory for her (and you). She's been sick since Christmas Eve. Between Matt's wisdom teeth extraction last Monday and Kate's strep throat, we've managed to enjoy Total Family Health for roughly five hours this holiday season. Unfortunately, this five hours fell between midnight on December 23 and dawn on December 24 so Matt and I were the only family members awake to appreciate it.

Not that I'm complaining. While the rest of the family has been concentrating on recuperating, training for the Tokyo Marathon, and dashing off college essays on the global impact of on-line gaming, I've been exploring the "next blog" feature in the upper left corner of this page. Blogspot recently enhanced this feature to connect me with people who share my interests.

So far I've checked out a dozen or so blogs. The results have left me as horrified as Scrooge after his encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Future. According to Blogspot, my kindred spirits are apparently either crusty, cranky, obnoxious know-it-alls (gulp) obsessed with arcane hobbies like collecting toy soldiers or else they have military ties, primarily in the submarine community. Mike, meanwhile, is associated with sensitive, artsy gardeners who dabble in poetry and nature photography. How fair is that? (That was a rhetorical question, Jimmy/Jimmie.)

I sense the seed of a New Year's resolution lodging in my soul, the sort intended to transform me into a kinder gentler person (or at least one perceived as such by the Blogspot search engine). Before I add water and fertilizer to that seed, I'd like to reach closure on my 2009 resolution by finishing two more nonfiction books before the stroke of midnight on December 31. My sensitive, artsy mate is helping me meet this challenge by snoring softly in the background while I read about how sugar and caffeine contribute to sleep deprivation which, in turn, makes Kathy a crusty, cranky, and obnoxious person.

Fiction is so much more satisfying than the truth.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ramen Cuisine: An Exegesis

A picture? A thousand words? A picture? A thousand words?

I'm going with the picture(s).

If you want to know what I mean by "ramen cuisine", click on the title of today's post. That should take you to the Ramen Museum website. Assuming I set this up correctly, you will be viewing a page in English. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see pictures of nine different varieties of ramen.

The instant noodle was invented in 1958. Or did I tell you that already?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Japanese Holiday, Part I

Kate finally slept through the night. (I'm pretty sure the last time I uttered that sentence was about 26 years and 3 months ago.)

During a brief period of wakefulness on Friday, she met the Shonan Ladies (some of whom are pictured above). "Is this your daughter? She is so BEAUTIFUL!" Did I detect a tone of surprise in those voices?

We went to the Yamato Shrine Sale by train Saturday morning. It's probably a good thing I didn't spot this wig until I was checking out Kate's pictures the next day. And it's probably a good thing we took the train or I might be suffering buyer's remorse over a huge wooden dragon's head that looked like it weighed 500 pounds.

Kate liked the bakery inside the Yamato train station. While she munched daintily on this chocolate muffin, I was busy stuffing an entire loaf of fresh-from-the-oven cheese bread down my throat.

Kate was able to figure out (sort of) how to use my cell phone -- we'd shaken Matt awake before we left Yokosuka for a quick, and rather surly, tutorial on how to turn the phone on -- so she managed to direct Matt and Mike to the Ramen Museum in Yokohama where we enjoyed an early dinner in one of the nine restaurants. I have a hunch Mike and I will get back to the Ramen Museum at least eight times between now and August 2011 so we can try all the restaurants representing regional ramen cuisine. Is ramen cuisine an oxymoron?

Friday, December 18, 2009

They're Here!

Kate had to fork over a mere $100 to purchase those official United Airlines pet carriers at the ticket counter in Dulles Airport. The crates the cats were in when Kate arrived at the ticket counter were pretty much exact replicas of the ones they made her buy.

The cats adjusted to the time change within minutes. The same cannot be said of their handler, pictured here at the Pepper Lunch counter the only time she's been awake during daylight hours.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tick, Tock

My brother Jim turns 50 today. This boggles my mind.
Jim's the baby of the family, the youngest of six. The year he entered St. John's School as a first grader I made the leap across the central foyer to join my older brothers in the high school. This was the only year all of us attended the same school; Jerry left for the University of Dayton the following autumn.
Jimmy was incredibly precocious, of course, with five older siblings to teach him the ways of the world. Yet I still have not adjusted to the fact he has a driver's license let alone two teenage daughters. In deference to my nieces, I'm going to wait until Jimmy turns 60 before sharing some of my favorite stories.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Science Fairs and Gaining Extra Credit for Submitting a Project with Global Implications

Today's entry has been prepared as a public service for current and future parents of school-age children. You are welcome.

A fingernail clipper turns out to be an ideal tool for pushing and tugging a needle through a hard rubber surface. Seconds after I figured this out and about 15 minutes before I perfected my technique, I managed to embed the needle in my fingertip. (Scientists who favor the trial-and-error method would categorize this as the latter.)

I ripped open the box of Anpanman bandaids I had tucked away for my future grandchildren -- sorry about that, Winifred and Wilbur -- and wound one around my fingertip.

"Gosh, this bandaid seems to be adhering to my skin better than other brands I have tried. Am I imagining this? Has anyone researched the relative stickiness of different brands of adhesive bandaids? Are the findings available on the Internet?"

Eureka! A Florida third grader compared five U.S. bandaid brands a couple of years ago. Wouldn't it be interesting to compare the Anpanman brand with the U.S. brands? I would be delighted to provide some Anpanman bandaids to help your child earn extra credit because (a) I am a nice person deep down inside, and (b) I am curious about how the bandaids compare.

If you are part of a military family, each of your children ought to be able to replicate this experiment two or three times during their school years. One of the few good things about having to change schools every couple of years is being able to use the same project for multiple science fairs. Be sure to ask my children about "Friction or Fiction" sometime.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On the Significance of One Thousand Cranes

No crafts for the Americans today. Whew!

The Red Hershey Kisses, my group, started out at Mary Beth's house where the Americans dunked pear slices in an amazing caramel toffee dip while the Japanese ladies toiled away in the kitchen, filling Mason jars with cocoa mix. Then it was on to Mimi's where the Americans gorged on donuts and Viennese coffee while our friends toiled away in the kitchen, this time filling little jars with a Russian tea mix. We eventually met up with the Green Hershey Kisses at Debbie's house for lunch, a matching game, and Christmas carols.

Strands of origami cranes decorate Mary Beth's Christmas tree and more strands are suspended from the window ledge near the tree. Last Christmas Mary Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer and the Japanese members of JAW folded 1,000 cranes on her behalf. Mary Beth's American friends folded another 1,000 cranes and both strands arrived at her home within three days of each other.

I've checked Wikipedia on behalf of the two of you who aren't sure why someone might give a thousand cranes to a woman facing chemotherapy. "An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by a crane, considered a mystical or holy creature in Japan. One Thousand Origami Cranes has become a symbol of world peace because of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who contracted leukemia as a result of radiation from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War II. Her story is told in the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes."

That's Mary Beth on the left. As you can probably imagine, she is quite an inspiration in these parts.

On Why Your Christmas Card Might Arrive Postage Due

My social calendar does not permit a trip to Yokohama to converse with Dr. T this week but that doesn't mean I've managed to shake the Woody Allen persona.

My husband of 18 years -- thanks for remembering our anniversary, Sandy! -- rode his bike home from the ship the other day. I did a double take Woody would have appreciated when Mike came clomping through the door. "What's that thing attached to your helmet? A sideview mirror?" How fetching.

Yesterday I found myself standing in line at the post office three weeks before Christmas tucking a Power of Attorney for Cats into an express envelope addressed to my darling daughter. That's right: a Power of Attorney for Cats. That was strange enough but then the clerk only had 18 two-cent stamps when I needed 50 and, rather than just getting a page of stamps from the postal clerk standing three feet to his left, he suggested I go back to the end of the line three weeks before Christmas and try my luck with another clerk.

And I'm still scratching my head over Erin crediting me with playing a part in creating the whimsical Willy Wonka Meets Dr. Seuss gingerbread house. Erin has known me her entire life. I'm flattered she thinks me capable of drawing a straight line but, really, what was she thinking?

The sad fact is my teammates sent me on a spying mission simply to keep my mitts off our entry. When I reported back that Team #2 had crafted a nifty tree to accessorize their house, my teammates handed me a dixie cup and told me to have at. They had no intention of placing my tree anywhere near our house during the judging phase.

Gosh, today's calendar shows another holiday luncheon. There are bound to be crafts involved and no one will want me on their team. Usually this doesn't happen until December 15 but I seem to have outdone myself this year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Matt Jong-il

He tightened the knot on his Fender guitar tie, shoved his arms through the sleeves of his blazer, and -- at the crack of dawn on a Saturday -- headed for Tokyo with a teacher and some classmates to participate in a Model United Nations event.

About 12 hours later he waltzed back through the door. "I was North Korea," he declared.

North Korea? A belligerent nation? How did that happen? I had him pegged as a Canada, or Kenya, or maybe Greece. Please tell me the seats were not doled out on the basis of personality.

His father recalls the Asian and Middle Eastern history electives Matt took last year at his school in Northern Virginia. Courses like that aren't offered at Matt's current school. "Matt probably knows more about North Korea than most kids his age so he's a logical choice for that seat."

Dad's right, as usual, but that reference to the Middle Eastern elective gives me something else to think about. "Matt! Did you use my computer this morning to research children's television programming in Muslim countries?" Matt looks sheepish. "Um, yeah, sorry. I needed to brush up on Hamas tactics. I saved your work in a file named 'sorrymom'."

"Whew, I'm just relieved to learn you put those pages on my computer screen. I had a nagging concern at the back of my mind all day long that my computer had been infiltrated by a radical terrorist group."

"Why are you mentioning this in your blog?"

"This is what I call a pre-emptive strategy, Matt. If I should ever get pulled over for some heinous traffic violation, failing to use my turn signal at 3:00 am say, and then compound the error by rolling my eyes at the police officer writing the ticket, a slimy 'senior government official speaking on condition of anonymity' will likely spoonfeed the contents of my computer to what passes for a reporter in the post-Watergate era. My only hope of avoiding life imprisonment or worse rests with the readers of today's post, at least one of whom I hope will have the foresight to print this entry and stick it in a bank vault, preferably in Switzerland. Then they can testify that you were conducting research for a school assignment."

Dad gets the last word. "Well, Jong-il, you come by your paranoia naturally it seems."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Another Holiday Contest!

The Japanese & American Wives previewed the Festival of Trees this morning then marched down Command Hill to the Officers' Club for an "Iron Chef" Gingerbread House competition and gift exchange.

The first reader (Mike is excluded) to correctly guess which gingerbread house was created by my team will win a half dozen boxes of mushroom-shaped cookies.









Killing Time in a Cemetery

Indulge me if you will:

Step 1 - Try to imagine half the films Woody Allen made between 1980 and 1995.
Step 2 - Now try to imagine me cast in the Woody Allen roles.

If you have managed to do that, you now have a fairly accurate mental picture of my weekly sessions with Dr. T.

This week we talked about cemeteries.

We also touched on Tiger Woods, Scrabble (my mother), typical family menus on Burr Street (my mother), the milkman with a hook for a hand, calcium, my brother Dave's dietary habits, One-a-Day multiple vitamins, the Guinness World Record for stretching a can of tomato soup (you-know-who), the Battle of the Bulge, my parents' courtship, malpractice insurance in Japan, the oversupply of lawyers in the United States, Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II, cancer, and how Japan's power structure has evolved over the past 700 or so years, but I have an abundance of cemetery pictures from my visit to Kaminoge this week so I'll try to stick to that topic.

A Tokyo tour guide back in 2006 had provided a general explanation of those tall prayer boards you can see in some of these pictures. I knew descendants of the deceased pay priests to inscribe prayers on those boards but I did not realize they are expected to do so every year for 50 years, although very few people outlast their parents by 50 years. (I think I just heard Martin Luther turning over in his grave.)

Several generations of a family share the same gravesite. Dr. T's parents and brother, for instance, are interred with his paternal grandparents in the town where Dr. T was born. He used to visit their graves and purchase prayers every year. Now that he lives in Yokohama he is only able to visit the graves every five years and he is obliged to pay the priest to write five prayers for each family member to cover the years he did not visit. (I almost snorted tea through my nose when Dr. T pantomimed dragging a load of lumber across a cemetery.)

Dr. T and his wife do not have any children so who will put prayer sticks on their graves when the time comes? They have several options, including two traditional options promoted by priests:
  • formally adopt a relative's child who will assume the obligation in exchange for inheriting the estate, or
  • transfer the obligation to a priest who will be happy to write prayers every year for about $100,000 in advance (American lawyers call this a 'retainer').

These days many Japanese, including Dr. T, raise an eyebrow or two at the choices spelled out by the priests. Dr. T is thinking about asking a cousin who lives near the cemetery to take care of his prayer sticks. Some people are avoiding the prayer stick quandary entirely by directing their ashes be scattered.

It seems I've managed to spend my knowledge of Japanese cemeteries much faster than my supply of pictures so I guess I'm going to have to see what I can find out about the brother who died.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanks All the Same But I'd Prefer a Christmas Card

The National Military Family Association wants me and you to support military families this holiday season by writing a check to -- you guessed correctly -- the National Military Family Association.

This being the Advent Season and all, I would like to just roll my eyes and launch that solicitation into Cyberspace Purgatory but this is the second time this year NMFA has made my blood boil and I have run out of cheeks to turn.

Last spring NMFA incensed me by gleefully announcing that TriWest Healthcare Alliance would sponsor their gala annual party. In their own words, TriWest Healthcare Alliance is a privately held, Phoenix-based corporation that contracts with the Department of Defense to administer the military health care entitlement in the 21-state West Region. TriWest is monitored by the TRICARE Management Authority, a department within the DoD.

"We take pride in the fact that managing the TRICARE program for over 2.7 million beneficiaries is our only line of business."

If TriWest's only line of business is managing the TRICARE program, shouldn't one assume their only source of income is that juicy DoD contract? If that is the case, perhaps the National Military Family Association, an organization purporting to advocate for military families, could advocate for me and my loved ones by questioning how TriWest can legally and morally channel taxpayer dollars earmarked for medical care to underwrite a social function on the other side of the country.

I am baffled that I never hear anyone else complaining about stuff like this. Am I the only Navy spouse who isn't hoping her husband lands a job with TriWest when he retires from military service? Ladies, I have news for you: former Congressional staffers and retired Army doctors have a tight grip on the keys to that executive suite.

If you feel inclined to support military families this holiday season, I'd recommend you expend a little time rather than money. In 30 seconds or less you can say a prayer for someone's son, daughter, brother, or sister who will be waking up in Afghanistan or Iraq on Christmas morning. In 5-10 minutes you can write a note to a family whose soldier or sailor won't be able to make it home this holiday season or a family that will never see their loved one again. In two or three hours you can babysit the children of a deployed sailor or soldier while the frazzled young parent finishes her/his holiday shopping (or reads a book or takes a nap uninterrupted).

I favor people power over government programs. Thanks for listening even when you totally disagree with me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Social Whirl

Have you been holding your breath and drumming your fingers in anticipation of the Anpanman tree? It turns out those little figures are solid rubber and it's taken me three days to coax, shove, and hammer a needle through one little noggin.

Hearing of my plight, Dr. T gifted me with a surgical needle but don't look for any progress on this project until mid-month. Bear in mind I am living on a military base where the holiday social whirl is compressed into the first 13 days of December. This is so all the Sailors who are taking leave during the holidays can have their fudge and eat it too.

Seasoned runners load up on carbohydrates before a marathon, so it makes sense mothers need to store up energy before the holidays by waffle loading. To test my newest theory, Jen O and the extremely pregnant (and remarkably loquacious) Monika have now been officially introduced to the waffle restaurant in Kamakura. Jen's command of Japanese never fails to heighten a restaurant experience - "We would like to try everything on your menu, please, and with ice cream when that's an option" - and Monika's talkativeness gave me a chance to eat way more than my fair share of the waffles. When it dawns on her that I nabbed most of her portion perhaps she'll remember that I also introduced her to that nifty parking lot with the helpful attendants.

I got back from Kamakura in time to stick a ham in the oven and whip up a couple of potato casseroles before the Knitwits and their families arrived to trim our tree. Whoever invented the expression "infectious enthusiasm" must have had people like our Japanese guests of honor in mind; you could not be within 10 feet of these people without grinning from ear to ear. This was the first time we've thrown a party where the house looked better when the guests were leaving than when they arrived. For my next trick, I think I'll invent a "Let's Take the Decorations Down and Put Them Away" party.

Tuesday the Oakleaf Explorers (all two of us) dragged our new friend Mary Beth to Tokyo to view maples. We followed the directions in my trusty guidebook to the Gotoh Museum garden but the gate was locked and the gardener made an X with his arms so Sherlock here deduced we would not be viewing maples in the Gotoh Museum garden. We wandered through the Kaminoge neighborhood instead, exploring a park and two cemeteries and a charming garden shop with a rooftop restaurant.
I took a lot of cemetery pictures because (a) that's what I do in cemeteries, and (b) my companions were both serious photographers, the sort who contort themselves to find the best angle, so I had time on my hands while they were snapping the only maple tree we saw all day. I'll post those pictures separately because (a) you might enjoy them, and (b) I can't imagine ever having another opportunity to use the headline "Killing Time in a Cemetery".
Tomorrow is the Seventh Fleet Spouse Association holiday party (not to be confused with the Seventh Fleet holiday party Mike and I will attend next week) and Friday is the Japanese and American Wives (JAW) holiday party (not to be confused with next week's JAW Conversation Group holiday party). Many of the same people will attend these events. This is why I am frantically inventing a Holiday Sweater Rotation Chart when I ought to be making fudge, mailing packages, and stabbing rubber dolls.


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